The humanities program in Grade 7 begins a two-year interdisciplinary study of American history and literature. Humanities coursework emphasizes the role of diverse perspectives in shaping the United States through the use of literature, both historical and contemporary. By understanding an individual’s experience during a particular period of history, students learn about the complexities that abound in understanding the past. Students consider the purpose and point of view behind a primary document or work of literature. In adopting the perspective of historians, students engage the challenge of interpreting history from multiple perspectives, develop essential critical-thinking skills, and experience the joy and difficulty of grappling with the past. The study of literature enriches students’ historical understanding on both literal and thematic levels while developing their skills as critical, analytical, and appreciative readers. In addition, a continuing emphasis on each student’s development as a lifelong reader grows from a strong independent reading program that encourages students to develop their own profiles as readers.
The course focuses on several major points in American history and includes units on colonization, the roots of the transatlantic slave trade and North American slavery, the American Revolution, the creation of the Constitution, and a review of the events leading up to, through, and just after the Civil War. A wide array of primary documents and historical fiction directly supports these studies. Selected novels may include The Ransom of Mercy Carter by Caroline B. Cooney, The Winter People by Joseph Bruchac, Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Brotherhood by A.B. Westrick. These works give students the opportunity to practice literary interpretation while drawing on and expanding their historical knowledge. In addition, novels such as The Giver by Lois Lowry and Animal Farm by George Orwell support the historical study by exploring complementary themes. In using the online textbook History Alive!, students also practice extracting main ideas, taking notes, and organizing information. All class instruction is captured in Cornell Notes, which are at first modeled by the teacher and gradually offered to the students for their analysis and then creation.
Teachers connect literature to the world that produced it, introducing students to the work of major American writers of the time period. In the past, these have included Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, Thomas Paine, and Frederick Douglass. Literature in the humanities program extends beyond novels to include short stories, memoirs, and poetry. All selections provide the basis for studying plot, characterization, theme, figurative language, and other literary elements. Students explore works that capture their imaginations and require critical examination of their beliefs. Students develop strategies for both comprehension and their appreciation of literature. Informal writing, discussions both in small groups and involving the entire class, and other forms of response help students demonstrate their understanding of class- and literature circle-based reading.
Students write frequently, and writing remains a particular area of focus throughout the year. Through a study of nonfiction writing, students develop the skills to craft a meaningful argument, incorporate supporting evidence and quotations, organize logically-structured paragraphs, and increase the clarity and formality of their prose. Through their independent studies of history, students also engage in the research process in order to produce effective essays. Over the year, they continue their study of grammar and sentence construction. Creative assignments allow students to compose their own works of historical fiction, share their knowledge of different time periods, and reflect on experiences throughout the course.
An integral part of the curriculum, technology provides access to a variety of primary sources. The ability to share documents facilitates collaboration on group assignments and allows for immediate and thorough feedback at each stage of the writing process. Technology is also at the core of the project-based learning students do throughout the year. In addition to traditional research papers, students work on interdisciplinary projects that incorporate skills emphasized throughout a St. Patrick’s education: Critical thinking and problem-solving through collaboration, creativity, adaptability, resilience, and accessing and analyzing information.
Using materials from Illustrative Mathematics, students start Grade 7 by studying scale drawings to support the subsequent work on proportional relationships. Geometry and proportional relationships are woven through the year along with the study of operations with rational numbers. Rational number rules are generalized to inform students’ work with polynomials and equations. Students examine inequalities and graphs of linear inequalities using their understanding of linear relationships. Students finish the year with rigid transformations. The curriculum is a problem-based course geared toward developing students’ conceptual understanding of the material. Emphasis is also placed on problem-solving, using resources such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Palette of Problems and YouCubed Mathematical Mindset materials. The course is a pre-algebra course, preparing all students for algebra in Grade 8.
The content for Grade 7 science is divided into three major units. In the Fall Trimester, students study physical science with the primary focus on electricity and magnetism. Students use active physics along with inquiry-based lab activities to explore magnetic fields, electricity, circuits, conductors, insulators, resistors, current flow, and series and parallel circuits. Students gather quantitative data from labs and enter it into spreadsheets in order to manipulate it and create several types of graphs using Excel and Google Sheets.
In the Winter Trimester, students study environmental science with the primary focus on sustainability. We analyze our human footprint, both individually and globally, and study product consumption, transportation, and waste. Through hands-on experiments and projects, students examine their impact on the world around them while answering the question How can we be the catalyst for change? Students use infrared thermometers to compare incandescent, CFL, and LED light bulbs. They determine the relationship between heat output and wattage and use light meters and watt meters to compare and contrast energy use and light output. Students use the knowledge gained in this unit to answer the question How can we transform Washington, D.C. to be a sustainable city in the future?
The Spring Trimester is devoted to life science, with the primary focus on cellular biology. We examine the components of plant and animal cells, create wet- and dry-mount slides of various types of cells, and examine those cells under the microscope. Students deepen their understanding of cells as the basic unit of life and the relationship between the form and function of cell types and study the organelles within the cells and their functions through a series of lab activities.